The Gap – Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare

I often fall into the trap, as I suppose many people do, of being generally dissatisfied with the work that I’m producing. I make images that I like just often enough to keep me engaged but it can be tough to keep going especially when we’re surrounded by an onslaught of great work on social media.

The guitar teacher Tomo Fujita tells his students ‘Be Kind to Yourself, Don’t Compare, Don’t Expect Too Fast, and Don’t Worry.’ Good advice for anyone whether they are trying to learn a new skill or to be creative.

The other advice that I turn to when I’m struggling is what Ira Glass said about ‘The Gap’ (see video 3 below). He’s describing the difference between what you know is good and want to be able to do and what you’re currently able to achieve.

Check out the illustrated video below.

The solution of course is to do a lot of work. Bang it out even if you don’t feel like it. Just keep going. You will get better, you will evolve and you will close the gap.

Checkout the full interview ‘Ira Glass on Storytelling’ in the following videos. This should be required viewing for anyone in the creative arts.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.

It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.

That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.

This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.

The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.

I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.

Friday Inspiration: Rachael Talibart

I must have been living under a rock to only recently have found Rachael Talibart’s seascape work. She is perhaps best know for her Sirens photos, a series of storm waves named after mythological beings. A book of the same name was published by Triplekite Books in 2018. As an aside I can’t believe I missed this book since I thought I had all of the books that Triplekite had published. I found her work through the recently published book, Tides and Tempests, that further explores her interest in storm waves but also the coast in general.

It sounds like Rachael has had a lifelong relationship with the sea having grown up on the South Coast of England, spending time as a child on the family sailboat. She describes herself as a poor swimmer and a poor sailor who is happier and safer viewing the ocean from the shore. Reading between the lines in the introductory essay to Tides and Tempests it sounds like she had lots of ‘fun’ on the sailboat as a child. These episodes really do shape your life both as an adult and as a child, either pushing you away or drawing you in. Personally I’m glad that she is drawn towards the ocean and chooses to capture the majesty, power and potential that the ocean offers. Check out more of Rachael’s work on her website here.

Also check out the videos that Rachel put together below. Scroll all the way to the bottom to hear Rachel talk about her work and her process.

Check out the mini-documentary/interview with Rachel that Sean Tucker put together below. Sean is worth a ‘Friday Inspiration’ slot of his own. Until then check out his YouTube channel here.

Friday Inspiration: Michael Kenna

Looking at my notes I was surprised to see that I have never included Michael Kenna in my Friday Inspiration series. His minimal landscape work resonates with me in a deep way. I enjoy the space that he provides the viewer for their own thoughts. The range of subjects that Kenna has photographed is quite impressive from minimalist Japanese winter landscapes to a power station in England to his daughter’s kindergarten classroom. Quite an inspiration.

I was excited a few years ago when I saw a short trailer for a documentary following Kenna as he photographed in Shinan in Korea. Yet I never was able to find the full length documentary until recently. Check out ‘A Letter From Shinan’ below.

Friday Inspiration: Joni Sternbach

I am filled with admiration for people like Joni Sternbach, who not only take a large format camera into the field but because she is using a wet-plate collodion process the photographic plates must be prepared and developed on location too.

The project that I’m most familiar with is – Surfland. It’s a project that was started ten years ago and has taken her to local surf spots on both coasts of the US, to Hawaii, Uruguay, Australia, France and England. It is a fascinating exploration of surf culture across the globe and well worth a deeper look.

Check out the Surfland project on Sternbach’s website here. There are also a couple of books associated with the project that can be found on her website here or from amazon.

Check out the short videos of Sternbach below.

Back After a Break

Well that was a longer interlude than I had expected!

I’m quite literally blowing the dust off things around here as I get back into the swing of things. I’ve got a lot of things still to do as I turn the lights back on.

I have just put up a new website that I hope you will check out: www.andrewnixonphoto.com.

I will continue to add photos to the existing portfolios on the site and add new portfolios as I finish photos. I’m working through my archives and editing photographs with a fresh perspective and new tools.

More to come…

Deconstructing Vision

I have been thinking about a framework that I can use as scaffolding for my on-going and future projects.  In other areas of my life I have found that having a flexible road map for what you’re working on to be enormously helpful in actually getting projects out of the door.  As part of this process I have been deconstructing some of the basic assumptions that have served me well up to now and trying to reassemble them.  Unfortunately I have parts left over which means either I’ve found a better way or broken something.

I started with vision, which I had interpreted as the way that you see the world. Looking at a dictionary definition of vision I found that vision was described as:

  • the faculty or state of being able to see.
  • the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.
  • mental image of what the future will or could be like.

Or to put it another way vision is the change that you want to cause to happen.  For instance it  could be telling the story and raising awareness of a disenfranchised group of society, shining a spotlight on the growing crisis of climate change, or mobilizing people to stop using the ocean as a dumping ground.

Vision therefore is not really unique, I know there are many others that are concerned about the state of the oceans and share the vision of clean oceans that will be able to support a diverse population of marine life.   How you express that vision and work to effect change most certainly could, and should be, if you draw on and incorporate the experiences that have shaped you.